Friday, October 31, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Jeff and I have had the great pleasure, for the fourth year, of staying with Dr. Hasan Matani at his home in Qalansuwa. Dr. Matani is a board member of Physicians for Human Rights Israel and has regularly participated in PHR's mobile clinics in Palestine for the last 19 years. Dr. Matani is a family physician and active in the Hadash Party, the party in Israel of Arabs and Jews, trying to give voice to Palestinian citizens of Israel. Dr Matani is a leader in his village and brings his warmth and humility to all of his interactions. He is a man of many talents, fluent in Arabic, Hebrew, English, Czech (where he studied medicine) and conversational in Russian and Spanish. His home is a gathering place for local politics and he is close to the leaders of his party on a national level. His 18 year old daugher, Asil, is on the national Youth Committee of the Israeli Communist Party. Last night, Dr. Matani gathered 10 high school students to engage with us in a discussion of local politics, organizing for social change and a quick game of "truth or dare." As is typical of his daily life, as we were having an another amazing dinner at his home last night, he received a call from a father in Gaza whose fourth son has been diagnosed with brain cancer and he was seeking Dr. Matani's help to gain entry into Israel for treatment. Dr. Matani made a flurry of calls to the staff of PHR Israel and has continued his efforts during the day today on the child's behalf.
Monday, October 27, 2008
I’m sitting at the
The absurdity of this situation is painful. It would be hard to imagine a group of individuals less threatening to the state of
We have had a very good trip so far, but it’s a trip through a landscape of despair. We are all impressed by the number of Palestinians who tell us they are tired, they are hopeless, they want to leave. This outlook seems, to our anecdotal experience, to be increasing. Prior to arriving in Ramallah for the conference, I and others from the health/mental health track of our delegation – especially Jim Deutsch and Mark Etkin, both Canadian psychiatrists – were at the Farah Center in Nablus, which is the Palestinian Medical Relief Committee’s facility for outpatient rehabilitation, mostly for children. We saw a number of patients and families with our Palestinian colleagues; Mark saw several adults disabled by IDF gunshot wounds, Jim worked with families whose children had a variety of disabilities and behavioral problems, and I saw kids with some general pediatric issues and psychosocial and developmental problems as well. This felt very natural to me – much like seeing patients at home. Fortunately, we had a good amount of time with each patient. The first child I saw had life-threatening malnutrition superimposed on developmental delay and brain atrophy. Although the
This is 8-year-old Khefaya, who lives with her parents and 3 siblings in
She explained to us that she had drawn the Israeli soldiers at the top, as cats. Why cats? She didn’t say, but we know that
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
So, a bit lighter than planned, we headed for the bridge across the Jordan River and into the West Bank - known in Israel as the Allenby Bridge, and in Jordan as the King Hussein Bridge. A taxi from the airport gets you there in a half hour or so. On the Jordanian side of the river, we had our passports stamped, waited a bit, then boarded a bus to take us to the Israeli side. This took some time, as the passengers included the members of a Dutch cycle club who were biking from Rome to Tel Aviv, and they had to fit their bikes under the bus. When we got to the Israeli side, we got a taste of what West Bank Palestinians experience whenever they leave the country - since they are forbidden to enter Israel to board a flight at Ben Gurion airport, they must travel to Jordan over this bridge and fly from Amman. Thus, our bus was filled mostly with returning Palestinians and a handful of internationals. At the Israeli immigration terminal, the scene was far different than the airport - disorganized, a bit chaotic. Random pieces of our baggage were taken away for inspection and we began an obstacle course with no clues offered as to what we were expected to do. We waited an hour in a passport control line for internationals that only had ten people in it. We finally gave up and went to another window, answered the usual questions several times, and after a total of a half-dozen checks of our passports along the way, we got through and took a cheroot (minivan) to East Jerusalem, where we met up with the rest of our group.
Today, Monday, the medical group (Alice, Ellen, Jim, Mark, me - we're still awaiting Gene and Judy) traveled to Tel Aviv to meet with Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, specifically Miri Weingarten, director of their oPT projects; Hadas Ziv, executive director; and Dani Filc, president of the PHR-Israel board (and a pediatrician and professor of political science at Tel Aviv University). On Friday, the day before we left the U.S., we had been informed by the organizers of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program conference ("Siege and Mental Health", co-sponsored by the World Health Organization) that the GoI (government of Israel) authorities had denied permission for all 150 international participants to enter Gaza. No reason given. This group is largely made up of mental health and other health professionals from all over the world, who are traveling to I/P specifically for this conference, many to present there. There is a site that GCMHP set up in Ramallah for a video-link where people unable to enter Gaza will be able to participate in the conference at long range, so the conference will go on. Why this blockade? Surely a group of psychiatric social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists etc are not a security threat. Our PHR-Israel colleagues felt this was simply a case of the GoI not wanting us international academics to physically see Gaza and meet some of its inhabitants/prisoners. In the 48 hours after we learned this, there has been a flurry of email activity amongst the group of internationals expressing a desire not simply to go quietly to Ramallah, but to do something in response. What has been organized so far will include all of us presenting ourselves at the Erez Crossing into Gaza at noon on Sunday 26 October, the day before the conference is scheduled to begin, and press our case for entry. If nothing else changes in the interim, we will surely be denied, and then we will stage a protest. The GCMHP people are working in concert with Israeli peace organizations to build press interest, and tonight we spent most of our time with our PHR-Israel friends making plans, phone calls, sending emails etc to develop the strategy further. They are going to put out a press release in advance of a press conference, to be held the morning of the protest, which we, the internationals, will hold for the international and Israeli press denouncing this action by the GoI. During the rest of this week we will be contacting our various national embassies/consulates in Israel to demand that our governments support us and advocate with the GoI, and with our governmental representatives at home as well. We are all profoundly distressed at our being denied entry into Gaza, but we are energized by the opportunity to make trouble for the GoI and hopefully blacken their eye a little, if the press cooperates, which our PHR-Israel friends feel is likely. So stay tuned. Personally, I'm happy to get a chance to make some signs.
Tomorrow the medical group heads for the Deheisheh refugee camp outside of Bethlehem, where we will meet with members of the camp's Health Committee, perhaps see some patients, and visit the Maher Center, a volunteer organization that supports families of children with cancer being treated at the only hospital in the oPT that offers this care, and which has developed a relationship with the Cambridge-Bethlehem People-to-People Project.
more to come…